Wednesday, May 8, 2013


“Gentlemen, start your egos,” Billy Crystal

The “”Start your egos” quote by comedian Billy Crystal, not to be confused with the dour FOX commentator Bill Crystal, is a take-off on the traditional announcement to begin the Indianapolis 500, taking place in a couple weeks.  It’s also the title of an obscure Grateful Dead ditty that begins “It’s three AM in the combat zone” and contains the line, “The dead can do my sleeping, if you know what I mean.”
 Timuel Black, photo by Shawn Allee

Sam Barnett learned that 93 year-old Timuel Black was speaking about “The Great Migration” in a library near where he teaches.  In “Bridges of Memory: Chicago’s First Wave of Great Migration” Black wrote that many black Southerners moving to Chicago “bought homes from previous immigrants who had lived in the same area and then had moved on.  When the Dan Ryan Expressway was conceived and constructed, these people were displaced immediately.”   Born in Birmingham, Alabama, Black has a master’s degree from the University of Chicago.  Interviewed by Studs Terkel for several of his oral histories, including “Race: How Blacks and Whites Think and Feel about the American Obsession,” Timuel was a mainstay at Oral History Association conferences and a real gentleman.  He once gave a great talk on Chicago’s Black Panther Party and brought several original members with him.

Anne Balay passed on Tiny Fey’s “Mother’s Prayer,” which begins: “First Lord, No tattoos.  May neither Chinese symbol for truth nor Winnie-the-Pooh holding the FSU logo stain her tender haunches.”  Toni had a similar aversion to her sons getting tattoos.  Fey also prayed that her daughter eschew hard drugs and have guidance when she crosses streets or is walking in parking lots. During WW II tattoos on soldiers and sailors was a sign of patriotism, but during the Eisenhower years it was considered un-gentlemanly.  Toni’s objection was that was abusing the body and pretty much irreversible.

Ron visited the Woody Guthrie Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  Foundation money from oil barons has yielded some civic benefits, although the exhibits downplay the folk singer’s radical beliefs. Nancy is a huge Bulls fan, and Ron heard plenty of groans and cheers emanating from her bedroom during their upset win in Miami.  Wish I’d been in there with her.

Monday’s book club selection is Jim Newton’s “Eisenhower: The White House Years” (2012).  Once Ike’s popular image was that of a benign but disengaged chief executive.  In truth he was a meticulous manager with a temper, an aide recalled, that could “peel the varnish off a desk.”  Newton gives Ike high marks for ending McCarthyism, avoiding war in Southeast Asia, stimulating the economy, enforcing desegregation in Little Rock, and appointing liberals Earl Warren and William Brennan to the Supreme Court.  Shortcomings include the shabby treatment of J. physicist Robert Oppenheimer (father of the atomic bomb whose security clearance was revoked), CIA coups in Iran and Guatemala, and authorization of U-2 flights over the Soviet Union, which had disastrous consequences.

Korean showman Psy has a monster follow up hit to “Gangnam Style.”  “Gentleman M/V” has generated a record number of YouTube hits.  I have to admit – the man can dance, and this time without an imaginary horse.  No one-hit wonder, Psy.

In a section of his memoir entitled “Odd Jobs” Mike Certa recalled delivering Post-Tribune newspapers.  Cutting through a backyard, he was felled by a clothesline.  Another time a dog plowed right through a screen door and knocked him clear off the porch into the shrubs.  One lady demanded that he “walk around her house to her back door, open the door, and toss the paper up the interior back steps into her kitchen!  She wasn’t going to take any chances of her paper getting wet!  On Sunday mornings she wanted her paper before 7 a.m.  She’d be sitting in her kitchen with her cup of coffee, just waiting for me to toss her the Sunday morning paper.” A bag boy at Edmar Grocery on Gary’s Fifth Avenue, he carried purchases to patrons’ cars.  One woman had him walk four blocks to her house and then deposit items on her kitchen table.  She didn’t even give him a tip.  Mike wrote: “My boss asked where I had been.  I explained that I didn’t know how to stop once I got started following her.  He said, ‘If she ever does that again, just put her stuff on the ground at the corner and tell her that’s as far as I said you could go.’” 

The summer before college Certa worked at National Tube, first as a common laborer sweeping floors, emptying garbage, and shoveling muck off the floor.  Promoted to a job cutting defective pipes with a hydraulic hacksaw, he had much free time on his hands.  One day he noticed that someone had written the first line of Alan Ginsberg’s “Howl” on the wall.  He added a second, and next day his unknown fellow scribe wrote the third line, which went: “angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night.”  This went on until the two of them filled up the entire wall.  A guy asked the foreman, Why are you putting up with this?”  His supervisor replied, “It’s nearly fall.  They’ll be going back to school soon.  We’ll paint the wall then.”  The guy said, “Why wait?  It drives me crazy to read this crap.”  The foreman’s succinct answer: “Don’t read it!”  Diversions such as these made life in the mill more tolerable.
 2007 retirement photo, from left, Leroy Gray, Patty Lundberg, Mike Certa, Florence Sawicki

A clothesline has never done me in, but I have walked into glass sliding doors, not realizing they weren’t open, once at Uncle Jim’s house in San Diego right after getting married en route to Hawaii.  I almost stepped into a crosswalk as a bus zoomed by.  Toni screamed, and I literally pushed against its side a couple times to keep from falling into it.  On the way to a class in Raintree I tripped going up the steps, causing books and papers to fly in all directions.  In Hawthorn 104 a long, jagged splinter from the wooden lectern went into my palm.  I didn’t cry out but must have looked startled.  I gutted out the final ten minutes even though my hand commenced bleeding when I pulled the sucker out.

A couple days ago I told Hollis Donald of Physical Plant about the Northwest News photo of him receiving an award from Chancellor Lowe.  The publication only appears electronically and he couldn’t find it, so Nick Rosselli at the library reference desk printed out the page in color.  Just then Delores Crawford in University Relations walked by and offered to laminate it for Hollis.  Sweet.

Suspicious after receiving no emails all day, I called the HELP desk and was advised to reboot.  I sat anxiously as it took forever for the computer to come back on, but the procedure worked.  Waiting was an email from Eva Mendieta thanking me for Steel Shavings and adding, “You are an inspiration for life after retirement.”  Fine Arts chair David Klamen answered my query about the possibilities of Corey Hagelberg becoming an adjunct.  Have him send a resume and statement regarding what courses he was interested in teaching, Klamen advised.

In the Archives was John DeGan, brother-in-law to Tom Krueger, whose WW II letters formed the basis for Steve McShane and my 1985 publication “Skinning Cats.”  Toni found the letters across a ravine from our house within the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore in a footlocker right before bulldozers were about to demolish it.  Sister Jane DeGan helped us get in touch with Tom in Wisconsin.  Initially reluctant to discuss his days in the Seabees operating his “cat” (caterpillar machine), he eventually recorded three hours of tapes that supplemented the letters about his experiences in New Guinea and the Philippines.  Also in the collection are letters from Tom’s brother John (a medical student during the war) and sister Helen Roames, who lived in postwar Japan with husband Glen, chief of utilities for the Far East Command.  John DeGan is planning on donating more letters and memorabilia to add to our Carl Krueger Collection (named for Tom’s father at his insistence).

Cemeteries are balking at accepting the body of Boston Marathon bomber Tamerian Tsarnaev, with protesters making funeral director Peter Stefan’s life miserable.  On WGN radio Garry Meier tastelessly read tweets describing disgusting things that could be done to the body. I wish folks would get that worked up over something positive, like gun control.  Dominating the news was the guilty verdict in the case of Jodi Arias, who killed boyfriend Travis Alexander, who had planned to leave her.  In the crowd outside the Phoenix courthouse, some chanted, USA, USA, USA.

A hunger strike at Guantanamo has been going on since early February, triggered by soldiers allegedly mishandling detainees’ Korans during searches.  It has received scant American news coverage but is bringing worldwide embarrassment to the U.S.  Congress refuses to let Obama close down the inhumane facility, where prisoners are being force-fed through a tube that runs from their noses past their throat and down to their stomach.  Attorney David Remes, who represents two Yemeni nationals held 11 years without charges having been brought against them, says that his clients have complained that the 15-minute procedure feels like a razor blade is being thrust down their throat.

Darcey Wade made a tuna noodle casserole for Angie, who has had a horrific week visiting her mother in a Chicago hospital and working with the cast of “Annie,” which opens Friday.  On WSCR the morning jocks were making fun of the Minnesota Wild goalie Darcy Kuemper, saying he even had a girls’ name, but Darcy is a common Canadian name for men.

My afternoon itinerary included stops at Allstate Insurance, the post office, Portage library, and the dentist for a cleaning.  Dr. Sikora’s assistant of many years just got braces.  Last time at the orthodontist the staff brought out balloons and a cake and serenaded a teenager who was getting braces removed.  She said she wouldn’t want such a fuss made over her.
Looking over recent issues of “Vanity Fair,” I came across a harrowing article by Richard Engle, above, about being held prisoner by Syrian captors loyal to President Bashar Assad and subjected to psychological torture and death threats.  I also came across an article about transvestite comedian Eddie Izzard, who describes herself as a lesbian born in a man’s body.   Heavily influenced by the comedy of Monty Python, he once said he prefers the terms “male tomboy” or “complete boy plus half a girl” and dislikes “drag queen,” which J. Edgar Hoover and Hermann Goring gave a bad name.  In “Hangover Part II” a so-called “tranny” named Kimmy (Yasmin Lee) has sex with groom-to-be Stu (Ed Helms), causing him, when he found out about it, to scream, “I made love to a man.”  In the past couple years Izzard, below, has appeared on stage dressed as a man.

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